Video: An 11-year-old is the most mature voice in L.A.'s cycling wars
All Matlock Grossman wants is a safe route to ride his bike.
That basic desire is why the 11-year-old boy gave a much-circulated speech about behavior at a Silverlake town hall meeting Monday night.
By chiding the town hall, Matty waded into a debate that has long been the province of adults squabbling about city planning and traffic. His presence forces the Los Angeles cycling rights conversation to include a population that is directly affected by Angelenos’ attitudes toward bicyclists, but that is rarely considered in high-level policy: kids.
“Motorists who don’t like bicyclists are acting like children,” Grossman said in an interview. “And if a child, me, is the only voice of reason in the room, then it kind of makes others think about what they’re saying.”
Children are citizens who can’t drive, who rely on walking or cycling to get around without—and sometimes with—their parents. Matty rides the five-mile route from his Los Feliz home to his school in Glendale about once a week with his dad, and uses the Rowena Road bike lane to get to the library.
Matty spoke at the meeting about the controversial “Rowena Road diet,” which reduced the number of car lanes and added bike lanes after a pedestrian was killed three years ago.
Now officials are taking that model citywide in their Mobility Plan, a move plenty of people are unhappy about it. It’s been dubbed the “Immobility Plan” by some, and the Westside’s city councilman, Paul Koretz, tried to get Westwood out of it, saying it would increase traffic and cut off access to turn lanes.
Every time Matty rides his red Specialized Hotrock, he sees this opposition in action.
“I have lost track of the number of cars who have purposely violated my legal right to three feet of safety or shouted obscenities at me,” Matty said at Monday’s town hall. “Can you imagine the kind of monster who yells ‘F you’ to a child?”
And Matty, a sixth-grader, is over it.
"It’s whiny, entitled behavior you wouldn’t tolerate from a kid," he told the room. "Why should I tolerate it from adults?"
Valid as Matty’s experience may be, said road diet opponent Joseph Mailander, a child’s run-ins with road rage don’t have a place in conversations about "adult issues" such as bike lanes and transportation policy. Mailander thinks promoting this child’s voice paints the picture of cyclists as more innocent and civil than many other cycling advocates actually are. (After the meeting, video of his comments was circulated through Youtube, LAist and some other local sites.)
If an adult had made the comments that Matty did, it’s unlikely that they would have gotten this much attention, or been received as well. But there’s something striking about a kid telling adults to grow up.
That might be why Matty's speech earned a lot of cheers, and his comments inspired support from viewers.
Bike policies affect kids, so including their perspective is important — but only if they, like Matty, are speaking up voluntarily, said cycling advocate Sean Meredith, who taped the town hall and posted the video of Matty on YouTube. “I don’t think that we need to start mobilizing children’s voices for political purposes,” he said.
Matty denies any charge that he was somehow manipulated into making his comments, as does his mother, graphic designer Debra Matlock. She found out about the town hall from a friend and bicyclist, but Matty is the one who decided he wanted to go, who wrote his comments and practiced them for a week before the town hall, Matty said in an interview.
@missmatlock It's not that he was forced to speak – nobody cares – it's that you're lobby group uses a child to promote its own agenda.— J.F. Mailander (@jfmailander) September 16, 2015
For his part, Matty was inspired by a role model — he recently finished the autobiography "I Am Malala." Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai’s decision to advocate for girls’ rights to education in the face of resistance and danger inspired him to speak for what he cares about, too. He acknowledges that bicycling in Los Angeles is a much smaller issue for a preteen to tackle than access to education against the Taliban, but it helped him gain confidence that young people’s views are valid, and can help effect change.
Matlock wants her son to be able to bicycle freely and safely because it’s something she did growing up in the Bay Area, she said. That’s how she learned to be independent and got to know her community. Here, she and her husband have tried to organize bike trains with other kids in the community, but no parents feel the roads are safe enough for their kids to participate, she said.
Her son plans to continue being that voice of reason, making children stakeholders in this debate—next week he plans to speak at another town hall.
And beyond next week? Matty says he eventually wants to become either an astrophysicist or the mayor of Los Angeles.
Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli or by email at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com.
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